The weather in central Florida can be a real yo-yo scenario from October through April. This is the time of year when Florida weather is controlled more by powerful cold fronts moving through the continental U.S. than by maritime breezes. At the same time, our prevailing weather is warm and humid. Combine those two forces once or twice a week, and you have the recipe for some pretty active weather. You’ve heard of four seasons in one day? Yes, we have that here!
When you’re planning a trip during this season, your long-range planning should include having some cold-weather and warm-weather gear ready to go. You should also make some back-up plans for possible rainy days or days with extreme cold. Both can have quite the effect on your Disney vacation plans, either because of facility closures, or because it’s just a lot colder out than you expected!
Yes, Florida Gets Cold
The first thing to recognize is that it’s okay to say “I’m cold” while you’re in Florida. No one is going to judge you. Trust me, we are all cold, too.
For one thing, every building, attraction, and hotel at Walt Disney World is designed for warm weather. Let’s extend that: everything in Central Florida is designed for warm weather. We are air-conditioned here, we are not good at heating. Attraction queues which are open-air, restaurant seating which is all outdoors, resort rooms which are stubbornly chilly—these things can add up on a cold day, especially when adding in the reality of theme park touring: you’re outside most of the day. Most people simply don’t spend all day outdoors back at home.
For another thing, it’s humid here. The driest day in Florida usually has a humidity factor that is twice what you might experience on a normal day up in the midwest. After a cold front blows though, the humidity clears out considerably—but our winds are still dampened by the ocean and our large lakes. The extra chill in the air added by all that humidity can chill the heartiest northerner.
Cold fronts can bring frost, ice, and even the occasional snowflake to central Florida. In the most extreme fronts, you could be enjoying a 75-degree, sunny morning in the parks before a heavy rainstorm moves through, drops the temperature thirty degrees in a matter of minutes, deluges cold rain for several hours, and then pulls out, leaving a sharp wind behind. In the morning, you could easily wake up to frost. That’s a huge shift in temperatures. Again, even if you’re from the north, a temperature swing of forty degrees is going to leave you shivering.
Walt Disney World Cold-Weather Effects
When a cold front moves through central Florida, shifts in both crowd patterns and operating hours can change the way your vacation works—for better and for worse.
On days with a big temperature drop, the parks and Disney Springs often clear out quickly after sunset. Folks who left their hotel room at 8 a.m. wearing shorts and a t-shirt are not dressed for the falling temps at 5 p.m., and plenty of locals will decide it’s a good night to stay in and binge Disney+ instead of going outside to shiver. If you brought along your hoodie (or your coat, if it’s a powerful cold front) you could enjoy some low wait times or uncrowded walkways. Truly brave? Visit the lonely Cast Members at Splash Mountain—they tend to feel unloved when the mercury drops below sixty degrees.
If you were planning a water park day, check opening hours with your resort concierge or the Disney World website a few days beforehand, and again the day before. Plans to close Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach are generally announced once a strong cold front is forecast within the 3-5 day forecast window, but it might also be as late as a day-of announcement. If the day is going to be rainy and cool, expect the water parks to stay closed that day.
Resort pools only close for the coldest of weather—so cold when there’s simply no chance anyone would want to take a dip, even though the water is heated to 82 degrees.
Some outdoor activities get canceled for cold weather, as well, including the Spirit of Aloha dinner show and the Ferrytale Fireworks Dessert Cruise. Your resort concierge will have details if you don’t receive a communication and you’re concerned about plans changing.
One big winner on cold days? Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Yes, Orlando’s steamiest summer park gets absolutely frigid when that north wind is gusting, but the animals love the change. Be sure to ride Kilimanjaro Safaris for a chance to see normally napping animals bouncing around the savanna, enjoying the chill in the air. On the other hand, Kali River Rapids might be off your must-do list.
Packing for Walt Disney World Winter
No Disney winter packing list is complete without a hoodie or light jacket, and depending on the length of your trip and the forecast, that might be enough. You might not even need a pair of jeans! But if you’re staying longer than five days, get out the bigger suitcase and pack for chilly weather scenarios. That’s because the weather forecast more than five days out gets dicey, and even if there’s no cold weather in the forecast when you leave your house, by the time you arrive at your resort, long-term models could be saying something different about the end of your week at Walt Disney World.
If you’re confused about packing for temperatures anywhere between 85 and 35, with the occasional dip into the 20s, you’re not alone. The key, naturally, is layers. For a calm day with highs in the 60s or 70s and lows in the 50s, a t-shirt and a light sweater for the evening might be enough.
For a windy day in the 50s or lower just after a cold front, a nice thin thermal layer makes a good starting point, followed by a sweater and a jacket on top to keep out the chilly breeze.
Bring jeans or leggings, but if you get warm easily, be wary of long pants when the high is heading for 80 degrees and the sun is out—that sunshine gets hot!
Don’t be shy about throwing in a scarf, knit cap, and gloves (especially smartphone gloves, so that you can take photos and use your My Disney Experience app). Absolutely no one is going to judge you for staying warm (and all the locals will be dressed up like they’re going skiing anyway). With all of the wide-open spaces around WDW, from World Showcase’s waterfront promenades to the windy decks of the Magic Kingdom ferry, wind-chill factors are no joke here.
And bring your swimsuit. The pools are heated, there are hot tubs, and hey—you’re on vacation… you never know what might happen!
Buying The Things You Forgot
Winter-weather gear is limited and expensive at Walt Disney World, although it’s now a little easier to find quality products you might actually use when you get home with so many outside retail stores now open at Disney Springs. Expect to spend $40 or more for a long-sleeved shirt at a Disney-owned store, and more than that for hoodies, zip-ups, and jackets. Size choice can vary wildly and items do tend to sell out, so your selection could be spotty if you’re in a bind and need something right away.
At Disney Springs, the low-cost, high-tech cold-weather gear at Uniqlo is a great bet—just be prepared to wait in line as this store brings in the crowds. Other outfitters like Columbia also have outposts here, and while they’re not outlet stores, some do offer a small outlet selection to give some value.
Indoor Fun at Walt Disney World
It’s raining, it’s cold, and there’s a freeze warning for the next morning. All of a sudden, your Magic Kingdom plans do not look so appealing. What do you do now?
Don’t forget about all of the indoor options Walt Disney World offers. Check your resort’s activity guide to see what fun is available—it might be anything from painting a work of art to making tie-dye t-shirts to touring the resort’s elaborately themed restaurants and public spaces. Head to Disney Springs for bowling at Splitsville, take in a leisurely movie at the AMC theaters, or perfect your dunk at the NBA Experience. Lounges and restaurants with outdoor seating roll out their heaters as soon as the temperature goes below 60 degrees, so you can always find a warm place to sit and dine. And don’t forget to do a little resort-hopping, experiencing the beautiful lobbies and comfortable lounges at resorts like Disney’s Wilderness Lodge or Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. You might even find a nice cozy fire to sit by for a little while!
Winter at Walt Disney World: it’s that exciting time of year when the day can start in the 70s, end in the 40s, and turn into an icy freezer overnight. Packing for a trip might take a little extra thought and a little extra space, but once you’re here, you’ll be glad you put the effort in.
What are your best tips and tricks for visiting Walt Disney World during the winter?